Category Archives: History

Book Review: Homo Deus

After reading Yuval Harari’s book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind early this year, it was almost impossible not to read his next book, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow as soon as it is published and I can get it.

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Homo Deus is the second book written by Harari and talks about the future of mankind. Since Deus is “God” in Latin, he argues in his book that a new religion called Dataism to raise and humans will not need gods anymore since we will very accurately predict what will happen or who will do what by the help of gather data.

The book starts with striking statistics about the past and the present. Almost three million people–15% of the French population–starved to death between 1692 and 1694.  Today, more people are dying of diabetes, which is linked to being overweight rather than a result of starvation.  According to Harari, in 2014 more than two billion people were overweight compared to 850 million who suffered from malnutrition. Half of humankind is expected to be overweight by 2030.

Some of the quotes from the book that I really liked:

“Sugar is more dangerous than gunpowder”

“We don’t become satisfied by leading a peaceful and prosperous existence. Rather, we become satisfied when reality matches our expectations. The bad news is that as conditions improve, expectations balloon”

Does the above quote remind you of someone?

“Historians don’t ignore objective factors such as climate changes and genetic mutations, but they give much greater importance to the stories people invention and believe”

Like in his first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, in Homo Deus Harari emphasizes the power of stories whether they are true or not. Actually my interpretation is; the less likely they are true and superficial, the more likely the people will listen.

Another point Harari argues is that humankind’s definition of knowledge has kept changing since the Agricultural Revolution. We were simple creatures during this time, so knowledge for reading the scriptures and applying and applying our logic.

“Knowledge= Scriptures x Logic”

Then the Scientific Revolution came and everything focused on collecting data and trying to find meaning for the gathered data.

“Knowledge = Empirical Data x Mathematics”

Finally in 21st century, as much as we are confident about ourselves, we care more about our life experiences and our sensitivities.

Another provocative fact that Harari argues is that there is no free will, and that free will can be manipulated. With the help of technology and data, machines know much better than what we will do or choose. Harari argues that companies are using this to manipulate us. In other words, Harari says what you think you want to do may not be really what you want to do.

He strengthens these points in the following sentence: “We are about to face a flood of extremely useful devices, tools and structures that make no allowance for the free will of individual humans”

Fascinating and provocative! Isn’t it!?

Harari also argues “In the 21st century we might witness the creation of a new massive class: people devoid of any economic, political or even artistic value, who contribute nothing to the prosperity, power and glory of society”  I personally did not get this point. Since societies are manipulated, how can they have this massive new class?

Some other provocative thoughts in the book are about collecting personal data.  Harari states “In the 21st century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for email services and funny cat videos”

“After 300 likes, Facebook algorithm can predict your opinions better than your husband or wife!

Yuval Harari is a young and great visionary writer. He definitely make my 2016 and led me to think as well as learn a lot!  He offers great opportunities for readers to think and learn. Harari’s Homo Deus is highly recommended.  His first book, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind is suggested as a prerequisite to Homo Deus.

I believe he will be in Istanbul on January, 25th which I am planning to fly and meet him in person!

Best Regards from Singapore.
Sukru Haskan

Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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Book Review: Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall

Whilst I was in London last month, one of the books that I bought was “Prisoners of Geography” by Tim Marshall. Tim Marshall tells us how the leaders of the world are restricted by their geographies and how their decisions are influenced by it. It is a great book that looks at historical turning points of different nations and helps us understand why they behaved in a certain way. His book is divided into ten sections: Russia, China, USA, Western Europe, Africa, the Middle East, India and Pakistan, Korea and Japan, Latin America, and the Arctic.

The book contains a lot of anecdotes about each region.

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Russia:

Russia covers eleven time zones and, even now, it takes six days to cross it by train. Russians were fighting on average in and around the North European Plain once every thirty-three years. By 2004, just fifteen years after 1989, every single former Warsaw Pact state bar Russia was in NATO or the European Union. Russia is the biggest country in the world, twice the size of the US or China, five times the size of India, twenty-five times the size of the UK. Although 75 per cent of Russian territory is in Asia, only 22 per cent of its population lives there.

China:

Xinjiang is the largest province of China. It is the twice the size of Texas, and you can fit the UK, France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Belgium in it and still have room for Luxembourg. Xinjiang is too strategically important to allow an independence movement to get off the ground: it not only borders eight countries – thus buffering the heartland – but it also has oil and is home to China’s nuclear weapons testing sites.

Large-scale migration south to north can be expected, which will, in turn, give China more leverage in its relations with Russia.

China intends to become a two-ocean power. This is China’s way of reducing its overreliance on the Strait of Malacca, through which almost 80 per cent of its energy supplies pass.

USA:

By 1814 the British had gone and the French had given up on Louisiana. In 1867 Alaska was bought from Russia. Many US government foreign policy strategists are persuaded that the history of the twenty-first century will be written in Asia and the Pacific. Half of the world’s population lives there, and if India is included it is expected to account for half of the global economic output by 2050.

Western Europe:

There are unprovable theories that the domination of Catholicism in the south has held it back, whereas the Protestant work ethic has propelled the northern countries to greater heights.

France is the only European country to be both a Northern and Southern power.

Geographically, The Brits are in a good place. Good farmland, decent rivers, excellent access to seas and their fish stocks, close enough to the European Continent to trade and yet protected by dint of being an island race. There is a theory that the relative security of the UK over the past few hundred years is the reason it has experienced more freedom and less despotism than the countries across the Channel.

Africa:

We are all from Africa since that’s where homo sapiens originated 2,000 years ago. Challenge is the rivers ince parts of it navigable by shallow boats, but there are parts that do not interconnect, thus limiting the transportation of cargo. The ethnic conflicts within Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, Mali and elsewhere are evidence that the European idea of geography did not fit the reality of Africa’s demographics.

About a third of China’s oil imports come from Africa. South Africa is one of the very few African countries that do not suffer from the curse of malaria, as mosquitoes find it difficult to breed there. Is it a coincidence that European colonialists chose to settle there and that South Africa is the biggest African economy today?

Middle East:

Prior to Sykes-Picot, there was no state of Syria, no Lebanon, nor was there a Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Israel, or Palestine. Lebanon’s most recent civil war lasted for fifteen years and, at times, it remains close to another one. Syria may suffer a similar fate.

The Mongols were the last force to make any progress through Persian territory in 1219–1221 and since then attackers have ground themselves into dust trying to make headway across the mountains.

Turkey granted its women the vote two years ahead of Spain and fifteen years ahead of France.

India – Pakistan:

There is an approximately 1,900 mile long border between the countries. Pakistan received just 17 per cent of the financial reserves that had been controlled by the pre-partition government.

In the spring of 2015, the two countries agreed to a USD 46 billion deal to build a superhighway of roads, railways, and pipelines running 1,800 miles from Gwadar to China’s Xinjiang region. This would make it possible to bypass the Strait of Malacca.

The Afghan-Pakistani border is known as the Duran line. Sir Mortimer Durand, the Foreign Secretary of the colonial government of India, drew it in 1893 and the then ruler of Afghanistan agreed to it.

Korea – Japan:

Satellite images and witness testimony suggest that at least 150,000 political prisoners are held in giant work and re-education camps.

The territory of the Japanese islands together make up a country that is bigger than the two Koreas combined, or in European terms bigger than Germany.

Latin America:

The Latin American population, including the Caribbean, is over 600 million, and yet their combined GDP is equivalent to that of France and the UK, which together comprise about 125 million people.

In 1914 the newly built, 50 mile long, American controlled Panama canal opened, thus saving an 8,000 mile journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans and leading to economic growth in the canal region.

The Texas-based geopolitical intelligence company stratfor.com estimates that Brazil’s seven largest ports combined can handle fewer goods per year than the single American port of New Orleans.

The Arctic:

The Arctic Ocean is 5.4 million square miles; this might make it the world’s smallest ocean but it is still almost as big as Russia, and one and a half times the size of the USA.

I highly recommend that you have this book on your bookshelf, as it will not only enhance your vision, but also make you understand where the world is going. Prisoners of Geography is the kind of book that you could easily go back to many times as a good source for references.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

 

 

 

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Book Review: Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

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A couple of months back, I published my next five books to read and one of them was Sapiens. Since this week marked Chinese New Year (Gong Xi Fa Cai!), it was a great opportunity to read Sapiens over the four-day break. I will share some of the author’s own sentences with my own comments and I hope that you find it interesting enough to read the whole book.

The author, Yuval Harari, divided the book into four different parts according to humankind’s developments: the cognitive revolution, the agricultural revolution, the unification of humankind, and the scientific revolution.

“The cognitive revolution kick-started history about 70,000 years ago. The agricultural revolution sped it up about 12,000 years ago. The scientific revolution, which got under way only 500 years.”

The author argues that prehistoric humans were insignificant animals with no more impact than gorillas, fireflies and jellyfish, and our closest living relatives include chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. Legends, myths, gods and religions appeared for the first time with the cognitive revolution.

The transition to agriculture began around 9500–8500 BC in the hill country of south-eastern Turkey, western Iran and the Levant. Yuval believes that the agricultural revolution was history’s biggest fraud since the average farmer worked harder than the average forager, and received a worse diet in return.

He names this fraud as the luxury trap by stating that, “The pursuit of an easier life resulted in much hardship, and not for the last time. It happens to us today. How many young college graduates have taken demanding jobs in high-powered firms, vowing that they will work hard to earn money that will enable them to retire and pursue their real interests when they are 35? But by the time they reach that age, they have large mortgages, children to school, houses in the suburbs that necessitate at least two cars per family and a sense that life is not worth living without really good wine and expensive holidays abroad. What are they supposed to do, go back to digging up roots? No, they double their efforts and keep slaving away.

He rightly argues throughout the book that worries about the future became major players in the theatre of the human mind.

So why study history? Unlike physics or economics, history is not a means of making accurate predictions. We study history not to know the future but to widen our horizons, to understand that our present situation is neither natural nor inevitable, and that we consequently have many more possibilities before us than we imagine.”

So true… Everything is happening because of a series of past events and it is important to evaluate the reasons and continue our lives accordingly.

The scientific revolution started with human beings accepting the Latin injunction ignoramus, in other words “We don’t know”. This is still a huge problem in many countries as people think they know everything. Instead, when you accept that you don’t know enough, it opens the door to investigate, observe and learn.

He explains the necessities of holding societies together in quite a comprehensive way and explains why scientific revolution took place in Europe rather than anywhere else.

“In 1500, annual per capita production averaged $550, while today every man, woman and child produces, on the average, $8,800 a year.” 

The scientific revolution has definitely increased our productivity, but has it really improved the overall satisfaction of our lives as well? The book also discusses this point in quite a nice way as well.

“Each year the US population spends more money on diets than the amount needed to feed all the hungry people in the rest of the world. Obesity is a double victory for consumerism. Instead of eating little, which will lead to economic contraction, people eat too much and then buy diet products – contributing to economic growth twice over.”

This is another sad fact of our age. Because our distribution of goods and services channels are not well developed (or maybe we don’t want to develop?) whilst many people suffer from famine, some other people battle against obesity.

He argues that there will not be a large-scale war in the future, which I don’t really agree with. He puts forward the argument that the economical benefits of peace are so great that countries will avoid a large-scale war. Even though the economic benefits of peace along with social benefits are huge, these benefits are being shared by only fraction of the world’s population. Due to this fact, I personally expect a large-scale war to arise from low income people if these issues are not addressed immediately.

He finishes his book with a question: “Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”

Overall, the book enlightens us about the series of past events that took place in the history of the humankind and it helps us to think why certain institutions, beliefs and behaviour exist in our lives.

I rate this book 5/5 and recommend you to read it as well. Yuval Harari also has a website where you can watch his videos and even subscribe to his public courses.

All the best from Singapore.

Sukru Haskan
Twitter: @sukru_haskan

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